Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Great War: Vol 1, Ch 9-3

This latest section brings the novel past the 100,000 word threshold, right in the range of the length of a lot of full length novels (90-120k is pretty standard.) The total now comes to 103,080 words. I think I'm still about on target for 220k total.

There will be one more installment of Chapter Nine, which should be going up on Wednesday next week. Chapter Ten, which centers on Philomene, will begin on Tuesday, April 7th.


Brussels, Belgium. August 21st, 1914. It was two in the afternoon, the sun still high and hot overheard, when the regiment stopped to rest and reform before entering Brussels. Walter and the rest of the soldiers of 7th Korporalschaft had thrown themselves on the ground in the shade of the trees that lined the road. They cast aside packs and coats and drank the tepid, metallic-tasting water from their canteens.

Fifteen minutes to lie in the shade, chew some army bread, and try to try to let the sweat dry out of their shirts, and then Sergeant Zimmerman ordered them back on their feet and began inspecting their appearance.

“Roll that overcoat properly, soldier.” “Beat the dust out of that tunic. What, have you been sitting on it?” “Clean the mess off that rifle, soldier.”

He moved down line dispensing instructions and abuse.

“But sergeant,” said Georg, in an undertone which was audible only to Walter and the Linden brothers. “How can I clean my rifle when you keep the whole korporalschaft’s cleaning rods up your ass?”

Alfred coughed out a suppressed laugh but Franz remained unmoved, re-rolling his greatcoat and buckling the roll to his pack in silence.

It was not a victory parade, nor were they the first conquering troops to enter Belgium’s capital. They wore the same field uniforms that they had worn since leaving the depot, and the gray cloth clovers, which identified their regiment in block read numerals “82”, stayed on their pickelhaube helmets, protecting their shiny black leather and polished metal fittings from dust. But the men were to be inspected and made neat, and the bands would play as they marched through the city.

The First Army had been marching through Brussels since ten o’clock the day before. Now, a day and a half since the first German soldiers had entered the city, it was the IV Reserve Corps turn.

The shutters of the buildings were closed despite the summer heat. The outdoor tables of the cafes were nearly empty, as if a plague stalked the city. A lone civilian man in a gray suit, sat at a cafe table with a newspaper open and a cup of coffee next to him, his eyes fixed on his newspaper as if by holding to an appearance of normalcy the marching thousands could be defied.

The few people they saw in the streets were mostly German military policemen, in their distinctive green uniforms and with silver gorgets hanging around their necks. And yet precision was enforced. The boots which they had buffed and oiled under the eyes of the sergeants and gefreiters gave off their dull shine, and the iron hobnails in their boot soles -- designed both to give traction on rough ground and because iron wore away much more slowly than shoe leather -- rang in time on the cobblestones as they marched in step, given the columns of marching soldiers the sound as well as the appearance of something half machine. Eyes front. Arms swinging in time. Rifles resting on the left shoulder at the correct angle. The precision of the show suggested some long, gray, mechanical caterpillar, its back bristling with the spines of rifles as it curled down city streets. There might be little audience to see it, but the logic of the army demanded that the show be made because the men themselves knew the image they projected to those unfriendly streets, and that image told them they were one, their minds adjusting to the rhythmic beat of the regiment’s 3,287 men stepping in unison.

They reached the Rue Royale and turned south, a mounted military policeman blocking the way before them and waving them in the direction they were to go. It was a simple enough change of direction, which within half an hour took them out of the city again and sent them down country roads with pear orchards growing on either side, but on a map at the General Staff it was the pivot point. To this point First Army had traveled nearly straight west, its path taking it halfway through Belgium to the nation’s capital -- the invasion of a neutral country which had brought Britain into the war with its small Expeditionary Force, which was already moving north from the channel ports to support its French and Belgian allies. Now First Army would travel south, towards Paris. They were the outside edge of a revolving door which was intended to sweep up all of the Fatherland’s enemies in its path, surround them, and destroy them.

As the soldiers marched along the southern roads, however, it was simply a change of direction which put the late afternoon sun at their right instead of in their faces. Without the silent buildings to witness their marching column, discipline began to slack, and the non-commissioned officers did not worry themselves over it. The men stepped off the road to pull the hard, unripe pears from the trees, hoping for a sweeter change to the steady diet of army bread and stew from the mobile kitchens.

“Don’t eat that,” Franz advised, as Georg fell back into step with one of the fruits, pulled from a nearby tree.

“Why not?” asked Georg, turning over the pear in his hands. “It’s a little hard, but it looks fine.”

Franz didn’t reply, and after a moment Alfred explained, “We had a pear orchard growing up and learned the lesson from trying to steal a snack on summer afternoons: Unripe pears will give you the runs.”

That night, spared the misery so many others experienced as half the kompanie crouched over makeshift latrines or braced themselves against tree trunks, George and Walter had cause to give thanks for their farm-bred gruppe-mates.

***

Thulin, near Mons, Belgium. August 24th, 1914. The burial parties had not yet come, and bodies, some clad in field gray uniforms like their own, others in British khaki, lay sprawled or huddled where they had fallen. All through the previous day they had heard the sound of rifle fire and artillery in the distance and expected orders to hurry to the attack. Now they could see the remains of the brutal human drama which had been unfolding a half dozen miles to the south of them.

[continue reading]

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